“Where have all the flowers gone?

Long time passing.

Where have all the flowers gone

Long time ago”….
— Words and music by Pete Seeger

Sometimes we tend to dismiss the beauty of our Destin Gardens during the chilly dreary months of January and February.  However, I challenge you to look around more closely at the exciting colors providing a feast for the eyes.  Naturally there are rainbow colors of the annual pansies, but let’s look at some of the perennial charmers in our coastal Southern gardens.

TETRAPANAX PAPYRIFERUS (Aralia papyrifera): Also called rice paper plant, this is one of my hands down favorites for the winter garden.  It can grow 12 feet high, its big, deeply lobed leaves ranging from 1 to 2 feet across.  The show it puts on in December and January makes your heart flutter and your mouth drop.  From the top of the plant, 2- to 3-feet-tall shoots race up like rockets.  This magnificent new growth is covered with thousands of tiny star-like flowers that resemble a fireworks explosion. The name of this plant comes from the pith of the stems that can be used to make rice paper. Although these plants are very difficult to find, I have plants to give away to local gardeners.

CAMELLIA, japonica and sasanqua:  Since there are over 3,000 named kinds I will discuss only a few today.  Coming soon will be an entire article on the care and beauty of camellias. I have 12 or so camellias in my garden. My favorite for a low growing, compact plant with glossy leaves, filled with rosy-red, semi-double flowers, is the “Shishi-Gashira.” I have loved this one for years.

If you are looking for a camellia sasanqua to fit into a small place and you need it to grow up instead of out, “Leslie Ann” is the beauty for you. The blooms start as formal double, maturing to semi-double. The glorious snow white petals are each bordered with scrumptious lavender that makes you want to take a bite.

I also loved the semi double white flowers of the “Silver Waves” from the moment I saw it. The startling yellow stamens in the middle of these ruffled petals look like a crown this beauty should be wearing.

The “Professor Charles S. Sargent” Camellia, resistant to drought and heat, can grow 6 to 8 feet tall and loves a little afternoon shade. This profuse bloomer, a favorite of Southern gardens, possesses intense scarlet, peony-like flowers. Charles was a professor of horticulture at Harvard and the only negative comment I can make is that he was on the wrong side during the Civil War.

BRUGMANSIA (datura) Angel’s Trumpet:  These blossoms are usually long gone by now, with the plants put inside or wrapped for the frost. However, our warm winter has allowed for another bloom from this tender semi-evergreen. The long tubular flowers, like angel’s trumpets, will astonish your visitors and stop them in their tracks. 
Hint:  If you have a friend with a brugmansia, during growing season you can break off a small branch, plop one end into the ground, pack soil around it and water it.  If the garden fairy is with you, voila! You have your own brugmansia. Caution:  Be aware that all parts are poisonous if ingested.  However, I am yet to find anyone munching on my brugmansia. 
In late afternoon, the intoxicating fragrance begins to gently float across the garden as the sun dips into late evening.  This natural phenomenon brings out the night hawk moths. Hovering alongside the blossoms, they unroll their long tongues down into the trumpets to extract the nectar.

NANDINA domestica or Heavenly Bamboo: You will find nice fall and winter color here — from a “never see me” green during the summer to a purple and bronze color in the leaves in fall.  Sometimes in the winter if your plant is mostly in the sun, the leaves will turn an eye catching, burning bright crimson. The winter birds will find the clusters of red berries most inviting.

The one item I must mention before ending this article is our citrus. Note: Citrus fruit ripens only on the tree. Fruit trees are easy to grow here in Destin, but you must do careful homework to pick the proper tree for our area.

In my yard, I have several favorites producing over several years. Always loaded with fruit and delicious is “Ruby Red” grapefruit.  It is almost seedless with red-tinted flesh and oh, so good.

I have a Meyer’s lemon that I could not ask for better performance or bigger juicer lemons.  Just for the fun of it, my neighbor grows “Ponderosa” lemons that can weigh up to 2 pounds each!

I wish I had bought more of the dwarf fruit tree varieties like my navel orange, which was grafted on to rootstock that keeps the size of the tree small but not the fruit.  My “Ponkan Chinese Honey” tangerine produces very large fruit, almost seedless and very tasty.

For a kumquat the “Meiwa” is my choice as it is sweeter and juicier than some other forms and is nearly thornless.

Oh, how quickly I run over my word limit.  As you can see, only the summer flowers have faded and many other beautiful things have taken their place.

Laura Hall is a longtime gardener and Destin resident. She explores area gardens with her cavalier spaniel Annie. If you would like to show off your garden, contact Laura at 837-8720.